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What Is Scope Creep and How Do You Avoid It?

Posted August 10, 2020

Scope creep — it sounds scary, and it can be a menace, but with proper planning, good communication and an understanding of how to minimize it, scope creep doesn’t have to adversely affect your renovation project.

Scope creep refers to changes, continuous or uncontrolled growth in a project’s scope, at any point after the project begins. Sometimes it’s unavoidable, like when we open up the walls and discover wiring done incorrectly. For safety reasons, it needs to be corrected, which adds unexpected time and cost to the project.

But most often scope creep is a result of a desire to make changes that aren’t required, but are desired — for instance, a kitchen renovation that morphs into a whole main-floor remodel part way through the project because the homeowners decide the dining room and living room should be updated, too, even though that was not what they initially wanted.

Scope creep doesn’t have to be a bad thing. That example about finding faulty wiring is really an opportunity to fix something that’s a safety hazard, which will give you greater peace of mind.

And sometimes it simply prompts you to tackle other renovations that might be in the plans, just not yet. Amsted Project Coordinator Kevin Chiswell uses the example of a kitchen renovation where, in the process of doing it, we discover the window framing is rotten, so the window needs to be replaced. And if one window is being replaced, it becomes a consideration to replace the rest of your windows.

“So, it wasn’t planned but because of what we found the scope has increased,” he says.

The issue with scope creep is that making changes once a project has begun is less efficient — both in time and money — than planning for it from the beginning.

About half of the projects we undertake will see clients add something to the scope of the project. If it’s something the client is prepared to invest in, and we can accommodate it in our construction schedules, there’s no issue.

But then there is unintentional scope creep, meaning we come across something unexpected when we open up the walls.

“We try to mitigate that as much as possible,” says Kevin. That’s done through our extensive pre-project preparation (called the Forensic Inspection), where we go through the home thoroughly, including bringing in our trades to help identify potential issues, all before the client signs the contract. This helps us to understand as much as possible what we’re dealing with and so that we can price things out accurately. This exercise significantly reduces the risk of surprises, especially big ones.

“But you never know exactly what’s behind the walls,” says Kevin. “The ideal situation would be you walk into a home and it’s all completely demoed. You can see all the structure, all the plumbing, the electrical — that’s a case where you shouldn’t have any unintentional scope creep.” Of course, that rarely happens. But when it comes to unintentional scope creep, it will typically add only about 10% to the budget, which is the amount of contingency fund that we recommend homeowners budget for.

We’ll also bring our trades back in once the home is demoed to make sure that what we determined initially is still accurate, to help keep things on track and minimize unexpected surprises.

Red flags

  • If you’re looking at other contractors, watch out for those who recommend contingency funds between 25-30%. Not only is it a huge amount of your budget, it’s an indication that they either don’t have the experience to be able to anticipate the kinds of problems your home might run into, or they haven’t properly investigated — with their trades — to spot potential issues.
  • It’s also important to make sure that the contract spells out everything, including materials that will be used. If your contractor simply says he’s budgeting $10,000 for kitchen cabinets, without going into detail, “what’s not spelled out is that $10,000 will get you an Ikea kitchen, not the custom one you wanted,” says Kevin. Getting those custom cabinets will add significantly to your budget.

More: How Amsted’s Proven Process helps keep your project on track and ensures a successful renovation